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THE DISCOVERY 
OF THE FUTURE 



THE DISCOVERY 
OF THE FUTURE 



BY 

H. G. Wells 




NEW YORK 
B. W. HUEBSCH 

1913 



Copyright, 1913, 
By B. W. HUEBSCH 



Printed m U. S. A. 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE 
FUTURE* 

By H. G. Wells 

IT will lead into my subject most con- 
veniently to contrast and separate two 
divergent types of mind, types which 
are to be distinguished chiefly by their at- 
titude toward time, and more particularly 
by the relative importance they attach and 
the relative amount of thought they give 
to the future. 

The first of these two types of mind, and 
it is, I think, the predominant type, the 
type of the majority of living people, is 
that which seems scarcely to think of the 
future at all, which regards it as a sort 
of blank non-existence upon which the ad- 



*A discourse delivered at the Royal Institution. 

5 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

vancing present will presently write events. 
The second type, which is, I think, a more 
modern and much less abundant type of 
mind, thinks constantly and by preference 
of things to come, and of present things 
mainly in relation to the results that must 
arise from them. The former type of 
mind, when one gets it in its purity, is retro- 
spective in habit, and it interprets the 
things of the present, and gives value to 
this and denies it to that, entirely with re- 
lation to the past. The latter type of mind 
is constructive in habit, it interprets the 
things of the present and gives value to 
this or that, entirely in relation to things 
designed or foreseen. 

While from that former point of view 
our life is simply to reap the consequences 
of the past, from this our life is to prepare 
the future. The former type one might 
speak of as the legal or submissive type of 
mind, because the business, the practice, 
and the training of a lawyer dispose him 

6 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

toward it; he of all men must constantly 
refer to the law made, the right established, 
the precedent set, and consistently ignore 
or condemn the thing that is only seeking 
to establish itself. The latter type of mind 
I might for contrast call the legislative, 
creative, organizing, or masterful type, be- 
cause it is perpetually attacking and alter- 
ing the established order of things, perpetu- 
ally falling away from respect for what the 
past has given us. It sees the world as one 
great workshop, and the present is no more 
than material for the future, for the thing 
that is yet destined to be. It is in the active 
mood of thought, while the former is in the 
passive; it is the mind of youth, it is the 
mind more manifest among the western na- 
tions, while the former is the mind of age, 
the mind of the oriental. 

Things have been, says the legal mind, 
and so we are here. The creative mind says 
we are here because things have yet to be. 

Now I do not wish to suggest that the 
7 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

great mass of people belong to either of 
these two types. Indeed, I speak of them 
as two distinct and distinguishable types 
mainly for convenience and in order to 
accentuate their distinction. There are 
probably very few people who brood con- 
stantly upon the past without any thought 
of the future at all, and there are probably 
scarcely any who live and think consistently 
in relation to the future. The great mass 
of people occupy an intermediate position 
between these extremes, they pass daily and 
hourly from the passive mood to the active, 
they see this thing in relation to its associa- 
tions and that thing in relation to its conse- 
quences, and they do not even suspect that 
they are using two distinct methods in their 
minds. 

But for all that they are distinct meth- 
ods, the method of reference to the past 
and the method of reference to the future, 
and their mingling in many of our minds 
no more abolishes their difference than the 

8 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

existence of piebald horses proves that 
white is black. 

I believe that it is not sufficiently recog- 
nized just how different in their conse- 
quences these two methods are, and just 
where their difference and where the fail- 
ure to appreciate their difference takes one. 
This present time is a period of quite ex- 
traordinary uncertainty and indecision 
upon endless questions — moral questions, 
SBSthetic questions, religious and political 
questions — upon which we should all of us 
be happier to feel assured and settled; and 
a very large amount of this floating uncer- 
tainty about these important matters is due 
to the fact that with most of us these two 
insufficiently distinguished ways of looking 
at things are not only present together, but 
in actual conflict in our minds, in unsus- 
pected conflict; we pass from one to the 
other heedlessly without any clear recog- 
nition of the fundamental difference in 
conclusions that exists between the two, and 

9 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

we do this with disastrous results to our 
confidence and to our consistency in deal- 
ing with all sorts of things. 

But before pointing out how divergent 
these two types or habits of mind really 
are, it is necessary to meet a possible ob- 
jection to what has been said. I may put 
that objection in this form : Is not this dis- 
tinction between a type of mind that thinks 
of the past and a type of mind that thinks 
of the future a sort of hair-splitting, al- 
most like distinguishing between people 
who have left hands and people who have 
right? Everybody believes that the pres- 
ent is entirely determined by the past, you 
say; but then everybody believes also that 
the present determines the future. Are we 
simply separating and contrasting two sides 
of everybody's opinion? To which one re- 
plies that we are not discussing what we 
know and believe about the relations of 
past, present, and future, or of the relation 
of cause and effect to each other in time. 

lO 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

We all know the present depends for its 
causes on the past, and the future depends 
for its causes upon the present. But this 
discussion concerns the way in which we 
approach things upon this common ground 
of knowledge and belief. We may all know 
there is an east and a west, but if some of us 
always approach and look at things from 
the west, if some of us always approach and 
look at things from the east, and if others 
again wander about with a pretty disregard 
of direction, looking at things as chance de- 
termines, some of us will get to a westward 
conclusion of this journey, and some of us 
will get to an eastward conclusion, and 
some of us will get to no definite conclusion 
at all about all sorts of important matters. 
And yet those who are travelling east, and 
those who are travelling west, and those 
who are wandering haphazard, may be all 
upon the same ground of belief and state- 
ment and amid the same assembly of proven 
facts. Precisely the same thing, divergence 
II 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

of result, will happen if you always ap- 
proach things from the point of view of 
their causes, or if you approach them al- 
ways with a view to their probable effects. 
And in several very important groups of 
human affairs it is possible to show quite 
clearly just how widely apart the two 
methods, pursued each in its purity, take 
those who follow them. 

I suppose that three hundred years ago 
all people who thought at all about moral 
questions, about questions of Right and 
Wrong, deduced their rules of conduct ab- 
solutely and unreservedly from the past, 
from some dogmatic injunction, some 
finally settled decree. The great mass of 
people do so to-day. It is written, they 
say. "Thou shalt not steal," for example — 
that is the sole, complete, sufficient reason 
why you should not steal, and even to-day 
there is a strong aversion to admit that 
there is any relation between the actual 
consequences of acts and the imperatives of 

13 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

right and wrong. Our lives are to reap the 
fruits of determinate things, and it is still a 
fundamental presumption of the estab- 
lished morality that one must do right 
though the heavens fall. But there are peo- 
ple coming into this world who would re- 
fuse to call it Right if it brought the heav- 
ens about our heads, however authoritative 
its sources and sanctions, and this new dis- 
position is, I believe, a growing one. I sup- 
pose in all ages people in a timid, hesitating, 
guilty way have tempered the austerity of a 
dogmatic moral code by small infractions 
to secure obviously kindly ends, but it was, 
I am told, the Jesuits who first deliberately 
sought to qualify the moral interpretation 
of acts by a consideration of their results. 
To-day there are few people who have 
not more or less clearly discovered the fu- 
ture as a more or less important factor in 
moral considerations. To-day there is a 
certain small proportion of people who 
frankly regard morality as a means to an 
13 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

end, as an overriding of immediate and 
personal considerations out of regard to 
something to be attained in the future, and 
who break away altogether from the idea 
of a code dogmatically established forever. 
Most of us are not so definite as that, but 
most of us are deeply tinged with the spirit 
of compromise between the past and the 
future; we profess an unbounded alle- 
giance to the prescriptions of the past, and 
we practise a general observance of its in- 
junctions, but we qualify to a vague, vari- 
able extent with considerations of expedi- 
ency. We hold, for example, that we must 
respect our promises. But suppose we find 
unexpectedly that for one of us to keep a 
promise, which has been sealed and sworn 
in the most sacred fashion, must lead to 
the great suffering of some other human 
being, must lead, in fact, to practical evil? 
Would a man do right or wrong if he 
broke such a promise? The practical de- 
cision most modern people would make 

14 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

would be to break the promise. Most 
would say that they did evil to avoid a 
greater evil. But suppose it was not such 
very great suffering we were going to in- 
flict, but only some suffering? And sup- 
pose it was a rather important promise? 
With most of us it would then come to be 
a matter of weighing the promise, the 
thing of the past, against this unexpected 
bad consequence, the thing of the future. 
And the smaller the overplus of evil conse- 
quences the more most of us would vacil- 
late. But neither of the two types of mind 
we are contrasting would vacillate at all. 
The legal type of mind would obey the 
past unhesitatingly, the creative would un- 
hesitatingly sacrifice it to the future. The 
legal mind would say, "they who break the 
law at any point break it altogether," while 
the creative mind would say, "let the dead 
past bury its dead." 

It is convenient to take my illustration 
from the sphere of promises, but it is in the 
15 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

realm of sexual morality that the two 
methods are most acutely in conflict. 

And I would like to suggest that until 
you have definitely determined either to 
obey the real or imaginary imperatives of 
the past, or to set yourself toward the de- 
mands of some ideal of the future, until 
you have made up your mind to adhere to 
one or other of these two types of mental 
action in these matters, you are not even 
within hope of a sustained consistency in 
the thought that underlies your acts, that 
in every issue of principle that comes upon 
you, you will be entirely at the mercy of 
the intellectual mood that happens to be 
ascendent at that particular moment in 
your mind. 

In the sphere of public affairs also these 
two ways of looking at things work out 
into equally divergent and incompatible 
consequences. The legal mind insists upon 
treaties, constitutions, legitimacies, and 
charters; the legislative incessantly assails 

i6 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

these. Whenever some period of stress sets 
in, some great conflict between institutions 
and the forces in things, there comes a sort- 
ing out of these two types of mind. The 
legal mind becomes glorified and trans- 
figured in the form of hopeless loyalty, the 
creative mind inspires revolutions and re- 
constructions. And particularly is this 
difference of attitude accentuated in the 
disputes that arise out of wars. In most 
modern wars there is no doubt quite trace- 
able on one side or the other a distinct 
creative idea, a distinct regard for some 
future consequence; but the main dispute 
even in most modern wars and the sole 
dispute in most mediaeval wars will be 
found to be a reference, not to the future, 
but to the past; to turn upon a question of 
fact and right. The wars of Plantagenet 
and Lancastrian England with France, for 
example, were based entirely upon a 
dummy claim, supported by obscure legal 
arguments, upon the crown of France. 
17 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

And the arguments that centered about the 
late war in South Africa ignored any ideal 
of a great united South African state al- 
most entirely, and quibbled this way and 
that about who began the fighting and what 
was or was not written in some obscure re- 
vision of a treaty a score of years ago. Yet 
beneath the legal issues the broad creative 
idea has been apparent in the public mind 
during this war. It will be found more or 
less definitely formulated beneath almost 
all the great wars of the past century, and a 
comparison of the wars of the nineteenth 
century with the wars of the middle ages 
will show, I think, that in this field also 
there has been a discovery of the future, an 
increasing disposition to shift the reference 
and values from things accomplished to 
things to come. 

Yet though foresight creeps into our 
politics and a reference to consequence into 
our morality, it is still the past that domi- 
nates our lives. But why? Why are we so 

i8 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

bound to it? It is into the future we go, 
to-morrow is the eventful thing for us. 
There lies all that remains to be felt by us 
and our children and all those that are 
dear to us. Yet we marshal and order men 
into classes entirely with regard to the 
past; we draw shame and honor out of the 
past; against the rights of property, the 
vested interests, the agreements and estab- 
lishments of the past the future has no 
rights. Literature is for the most part his- 
tory or history at one remove, and what is 
culture but a mold of interpretation into 
which new things are thrust, a collection of 
standards, a sort of bed of King Og, to 
which all new expressions must be lopped 
or stretched? Our conveniences, like our 
thoughts, are all retrospective. We travel 
on roads so narrow that they suffocate our 
traffic; we live in uncomfortable, incon- 
venient, life-wasting houses out of a love of 
familiar shapes and familiar customs and 
a dread of strangeness; all our public af- 
19 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

fairs are cramped by local boundaries im- 
possibly restricted and small. Our cloth- 
ing, our habits of speech, our spelling, our 
weights and measures, our coinage, our re- 
ligious and political theories, all witness to 
the binding power of the past upon our 
minds. Yet we do not serve the past as the 
Chinese have done. There are degrees. 
We do not worship our ancestors or pre- 
scribe a rigid local costume; we dare to 
enlarge our stock of knowledge, and we 
qualify the classics with occasional adven- 
tures into original thought. Compared 
with the Chinese we are distinctly aware of 
the future. But compared with what we 
might be, the past is all our world. 

The reason why the retrospective habit, 
the legal habit, is so dominant, and always 
has been so predominant, is of course a 
perfectly obvious one. We follow a fun- 
damental human principle and take what 
we can get. All people believe the past is 
certain, defined, and knowable, and only a 

20 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

few people believe that it is possible to 
know anything about the future. Man 
has acquired the habit of going to the 
past because it was the line of least re- 
sistance for his mind. While a certain va- 
riable portion of the past is serviceable 
matter for knowledge in the case of every- 
one, the future is, to a mind without an 
imagination trained in scientific habits of 
thought, non-existent. All our minds are 
made of memories. In our memories each 
of us has something that without any spe- 
cial training whatever will go back into the 
past and grip firmly and convincingly all 
sorts of workable facts, sometimes more 
convincingly than firmly. But the imagi- 
nation, unless it is strengthened by a very 
sound training in the laws of causation, 
wanders like a lost child in the blankness 
of things to come and returns empty. 

Many people believe, therefore, that 
there can be no sort of certainty about the 
future. You can know no more about the 

21 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

future, I was recently assured by a friend, 
than you can know which way a kitten will 
jump next. And to all who hold that view, 
who regard the future as a perpetual 
source of convulsive surprises, as an im- 
penetrable, incurable, perpetual blankness, 
it is right and reasonable to derive such 
values as it is necessary to attach to things 
from the events that have certainly hap- 
pened with regard to them. It is our ig- 
norance of the future and our persuasion 
that that ignorance is absolutely incurable 
that alone gives the past its enormous pre- 
dominance in our thoughts. But through 
the ages, the long unbroken succession of 
fortune-tellers — and they flourish still — 
witnesses to the perpetually smoldering 
feeling that after all there may be a better 
sort of knowledge — a more serviceable sort 
of knowledge than that we now possess. 

On the whole there is something sympa- 
thetic for the dupe of the fortune-teller in 
the spirit of modern science; it is one of 

22 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

the persuasions that come into one's mind, 
as one assimilates the broad conception of 
science, that the adequacy of causation is 
universal; that in absolute fact — if not in 
that little bubble of relative fact which 
constitutes the individual life — in absolute 
fact the future is just as fixed and deter- 
minate, just as settled and inevitable, just 
as possible a matter of knowledge as the 
past. Our personal memory gives us an 
impression of the superior reality and trust- 
worthiness of things in the past, as of 
things that have finally committed them- 
selves and said their say, but the more 
clearly we master the leading conceptions 
of science the better we understand that 
this impression is one of the results of the 
peculiar conditions of our lives, and not 
an absolute truth. The man of science 
comes to believe at last that the events of 
the year A.D. 4000 are as fixed, settled, 
and unchangeable as the events of the year 
1600. Only about the latter he has some 
23 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

material for belief and about the former 
practically none. 

And the question arises how far this ab- 
solute ignorance of the future is a fixed and 
necessary condition of human life, and how 
far some application of intellectual methods 
may not attenuate even if it does not abso- 
lutely set aside the veil between ourselves 
and things to come. And I am venturing 
to suggest to you that along certain lines and 
with certain qualifications and limitations a 
working knowledge of things in the future 
is a possible and practicable thing. And in 
order to support this suggestion I would 
call your attention to certain facts about our 
knowledge of the past, and more particu- 
larly I would insist upon this, that about the 
past our range of absolute certainty is very 
limited indeed. About the past I would 
suggest we are inclined to overestimate our 
certainty, just as I think we are inclined to 
underestimate the certainties of the future. 
And such a knowledge of the past as we 
24 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

have is not all of the same sort or derived 
from the same sources. 

Let us consider just what an educated 
man of to-day knows of the past. First of 
all he has the realest of all knowledge — the 
knowledge of his own personal experi- 
ences, his memory. Uneducated people 
believe their memories absolutely, and most 
educated people believe them with a few 
reservations. Some of us take up a critical 
attitude even toward our own memories; 
we know that they not only sometimes drop 
things out, but that sometimes a sort of 
dreaming or a strong suggestion will put 
things in. But for all that, memory re- 
mains vivid and real as no other knowledge 
can be, and to have seen and heard and felt 
is to be nearest to absolute conviction. Yet 
our memory of direct impressions is only 
the smallest part of what we know. Out- 
side that bright area comes knowledge of 
a different order — the knowledge brought 
to us by other people. Outside our imme- 
25 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

diate personal memory there comes this 
wider area of facts or quasi facts told us by 
more or less trustworthy people, told us by 
word of mouth or by the written word of 
living and of dead writers. This is the 
past of report, rumor, tradition, and his- 
tory — the second sort of knowledge of the 
past. The nearer knowledge of this sort is 
abundant and clear and detailed, remoter 
it becomes vaguer, still more remotely in 
time and space it dies down to brief, im- 
perfect inscriptions and enigmatical tradi- 
tions, and at last dies away, so far as the 
records and traditions of humanity go, into 
a doubt and darkness as blank, just as 
blank, as futurity. 

And now let me remind you that this 
second zone of knowledge outside the 
bright area of what we have felt and wit- 
nessed and handled for ourselves — this 
zone of hearsay and history and tradition 
— completed the whole knowledge of the 
past that was accessible to Shakespeare, for 
26 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

example. To these limits man's knowledge 
of the past was absolutely confined, save for 
some inklings and guesses, save for some 
small, almost negligible beginnings, until 
the nineteenth century began. Besides the 
correct knowledge in this scheme of hear- 
say and history a man had a certain 
amount of legend and error that rounded 
off the picture in a very satisfactory and 
misleading way, according to Bishop 
Ussher, just exactly 4004 years B.C. And 
that was man's universal history — that was 
his all — until the scientific epoch began. 
And beyond those limits — ? Well, I sup- 
pose the educated man of the sixteenth cen- 
tury was as certain of the non-existence of 
anything before the creation of the world 
as he was, and as most of us are still, of 
the practical non-existence of the future, 
or at any rate he was as satisfied of the im- 
possibility of knowledge in the one direc- 
tion as in the other. 

But modern science, that is to say the 
27 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

relentless systematic criticism of phenom- 
ena, has in the past hundred years absolute- 
ly destroyed the conception of a finitely 
distant beginning of things; has abolished 
such limits to the past as a dated creation 
set, and added an enormous vista to that 
limited sixteenth century outlook. And 
what I would insist upon is that this fur- 
ther knowledge is a new kind of knowl- 
edge, obtained in a new kind of way. We 
know to-day, quite as confidently and in 
many respects more intimately than we 
know Sargon or Zenobia or Caractacus, 
the form and the habits of creatures that no 
living being has ever met, that no human 
eye has ever regarded, and the character of 
scenery that no man has ever seen or can 
ever possibly see; we picture to ourselves 
the labyrinthodon raising its clumsy head 
above the water of the carboniferous 
swamps in which he lived, and we figure 
the pterodactyls, those great bird lizards, 
flapping their way athwart the forests of 
28 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

the Mesozoic age with exactly the same 
certainty as that with which we picture the 
rhinoceros or the vulture. I doubt no 
more about the facts in this farther picture 
than I do about those in the nearest. I be- 
lieve in the megatherium which I have 
never seen as confidently as I believe in the 
hippopotamus that has engulfed buns from 
my hand. A vast amount of detail in that 
farther picture is now fixed and finite for all 
time. And a countless number of investi- 
gators are persistently and confidently en- 
larging, amplifying, correcting, and push- 
ing farther and farther back the boundaries 
of this greater past — this prehuman past — 
that the scientific criticism of existing phe- 
nomena has discovered and restored and 
brought for the first time into the world 
of human thought. We have become pos- 
sessed of a new and once unsuspected his- 
tory of the world — of which all the history 
that was known, for example, to Dr. John- 
son is only the brief concluding chapter; 
29 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

and even that concluding chapter has been 
greatly enlarged and corrected by the ex- 
ploring archaeologists working strictly up- 
on the lines of the new method — that is to 
say, the comparison and criticism of sug- 
gestive facts. 

I want particularly to insist upon this, 
that all this outer past — this non-historical 
past — is the product of a new and keener 
habit of inquiry, and no sort of revelation. 
It is simply due to a new and more critical 
way of looking at things. Our knowledge 
of the geological past, clear and definite as 
it has become, is of a different and lower 
order than the knowledge of our memory, 
and yet of a quite practicable and trust- 
worthy order — a knowledge good enough 
to go upon ; and if one were to speak of the 
private memory as the personal past, of the 
next wider area of knowledge as the tra- 
ditional or historical past, then one might 
call all that great and inspiring back- 

30 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

ground of remoter geological time the in- 
ductive past. 

And this great discovery of the inductive 
past was got by the discussion and redis- 
cussion and effective criticism of a number 
of existing facts, odd-shaped lumps of 
stone, streaks and bandings in quarries and 
cliffs, anatomical and developmental detail 
that had always been about in the world, 
that had been lying at the feet of mankind 
so long as mankind had existed, but that no 
one had ever dreamed before could supply 
any information at all, much more reveal 
such astounding and enlightening vistas. 
Looked at in a new way they became 
sources of dazzling and penetrating light. 
The remoter past lit up and became a pic- 
ture. Considered as effects, compared and 
criticised, they yielded a clairvoyant vision 
of the history of interminable years. 

And now, if it has been possible for men 
by picking out a number of suggestive and 
significant looking things in the present, by 
31 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

comparing them, criticising them, and dis- 
cussing them, with a perpetual insistence 
upon "Why?" without any guiding tradi- 
tion, and indeed in the teeth of established 
beliefs, to construct this amazing search- 
light of inference into the remoter past, is 
it really, after all, such an extravagant and 
hopeless thing to suggest that, by seeking 
for operating causes instead of for fossils, 
and by criticising them as persistently and 
thoroughly as the geological record has 
been criticised, it may be possible to throw 
a searchlight of inference forward instead 
of backward, and to attain to a knowledge 
of coming things as clear, as universally 
convincing, and infinitely more important 
to mankind than the clear vision of the 
past that geology has opened to us during 
the nineteenth century? 

Let us grant that anything to correspond 
with the memory, anything having the 
same relation to the future that memory 
has to the past, is out of the question. We 

32 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

cannot imagine, of course, that we can ever 
know any personal future to correspond 
with our personal past, or any traditional 
future to correspond with our traditional 
past; but the possibility of an inductive fu- 
ture to correspond with that great induc- 
tive past of geology and archaeology is an 
altogether different thing. 

I must confess that I believe quite firmly 
that an inductive knowledge of a great 
number of things in the future is becoming 
a human possibility. I believe that the time 
is drawing near when it will be possible 
to suggest a systematic exploration of the 
future. And you must not judge the prac- 
ticability of this enterprise by the failures 
of the past. So far nothing has been at- 
tempted, so far no first-class mind has ever 
focused itself upon these issues; but suppose 
the laws of social and political develop- 
ment, for example, were given as many 
brains, were given as much attention, criti- 
cism, and discussion as we have given to the 
33 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

laws of chemical combination during the 
last fifty years, what might we not expect? 

To the popular mind of to-day there is 
something very difficult in such a sugges- 
tion, soberly made. But here, in this insti- 
tution (the Royal Institution of London) 
which has watched for a whole century over 
the splendid adolescence of science, and 
where the spirit of science is surely under- 
stood, you will know that as a matter of 
fact prophecy has always been inseparably 
associated with the idea of scientific re- 
search. 

The popular idea of scientific investiga- 
tion is a vehement, aimless collection of 
little facts, collected as a bower bird col- 
lects shells and pebbles, in methodical little 
rows, and out of this process, in some man- 
ner unknown to the popular mind, certain 
conjuring tricks — the celebrated "wonders 
of science" — in a sort of accidental way 
emerge. The popular conception of all 
discovery is accident But you will know 

34 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

that the essential thing in the scientific pro- 
cess is not the collection of facts, but the 
analysis of facts. Facts are the raw mate- 
rial and not the substance of science. It 
is analysis that has given us all ordered 
knowledge, and you know that the aim and 
the test and the justification of the scientific 
process is not a marketable conjuring trick, 
but prophecy. Until a scientific theory 
yields confident forecasts you know it is un- 
sound and tentative; it is mere theorizing, 
as evanescent as art talk or the phantoms 
politicians talk about. The splendid body 
of gravitational astronomy, for example, es- 
tablishes itself upon the certain forecast of 
stellar movements, and you would absolute- 
ly refuse to believe its amazing assertions if 
it were not for these same unerring fore- 
casts. The whole body of medical science 
aims, and claims the ability, to diagnose. 
Meteorology constantly and persistently 
aims at prophecy, and it will never stand in 
a place of honor until it can certainly fore- 
35 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

tell. The chemist forecasts elements before 
he meets them — it is very properly his boast 
= — and the splendid manner in which the 
mind of Clerk Maxwell reached in front of 
all experiments and foretold those things 
that Marconi has materialized is familiar 
to us all. 

All applied mathematics resolves into 
computation to foretell things which other- 
wise can only be determined by trial. Even 
in so unscientific a science as economics 
there have been forecasts. And if I am 
right in saying that science aims at proph- 
ecy, and if the specialist in each science is in 
fact doing his best now to prophesy within 
the limits of his field, what is there to stand 
in the way of our building up this growing 
body of forecast into an ordered picture of 
the future that will be just as certain, just 
as strictly science, and perhaps just as de- 
tailed as the picture that has been built up 
within the last hundred years of the geolog- 
ical past? Well, so far and until we bring 

36 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

the prophecy down to the affairs of man 
and his children, it is just as possible 
to carry induction forward as back; it is 
just as simple and sure to work out the 
changing orbit of the earth in the future 
until the tidal drag hauls one unchanging 
face at last toward the sun as it is to work 
back to its blazing and molten past. Un- 
til man comes in, the inductive future 
is as real and convincing as the inductive 
past. But inorganic forces are the smaller 
part and the minor interest in this concern. 
Directly man becomes a factor the nature 
of the problem changes, and our whole 
present interest centers on the question 
whether man is, indeed, individually and 
collectively incalculable, a new element 
which entirely alters the nature of our in- 
quiry and stamps it at once as vain and 
hopeless, or whether his presence compli- 
cates, but does not alter, the essential na- 
ture of the induction. How far may we 
37 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

hope to get trustworthy inductions about 
the future of man? 

Well, I think, on the whole, we are in- 
clined to underrate our chance of certain- 
ties in the future, just as I think we are in- 
clined to be too credulous about the histor- 
ical past. The vividness of our personal 
memories, which are the very essence of 
reality to us, throws a glamor of conviction 
over tradition and past inductions. But 
the personal future must in the very nature 
of things be hidden from us so long as time 
endures, and this black ignorance at our 
very feet — this black shadow that corre- 
sponds to the brightness of our memories 
behind us — throws a glamor of uncertainty 
and unreality over all the future. We are 
continually surprising ourselves by our 
own will or want of will; the individual- 
ities about us are continually producing 
the unexpected, and it is very natural to 
reason that as we can never be precisely 
sure before the time comes what we are go- 

38 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

ing to do and feel, and if we can never 
count with absolute certainty upon the acts 
and happenings even of our most, intimate 
friends, how much the more impossible is 
it to anticipate the behavior in any direc- 
tion of states and communities. 

In reply to which I would advance the 
suggestion that an increase in the number 
of human beings considered may positively 
simplify the case instead of complicating 
it; that as the individuals increase in num- 
ber they begin to average out. Let me il- 
lustrate this point by a comparison. An- 
gular pit-sand has grains of the most varied 
shapes. Examined microscopically, you 
will find all sorts of angles and outlines 
and variations. Before you look you can 
say of no particular grain what its out- 
line will be. And if you shoot a load of 
such sand from a cart you cannot foretell 
with any certainty where any particular 
grain will be in the heap that you make; 
but you can tell — you can tell pretty defi- 
39 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

nitely — the form of the heap as a whole. 
And further, if you pass that sand through 
a series of shoots and finally drop it some 
distance to the ground, you will be able to 
foretell that grains of a certain sort of 
form and size will for the most part be 
found in one part of the heap and grains 
of another sort of form and size will be 
found in another part of the heap. In 
such a case, you see, the thing as a whole 
may be simpler than its component parts, 
and this I submit is also the case in many 
human affairs. So that because the individ- 
ual future eludes us completely that is no 
reason why we should not aspire to, and dis- 
cover and use, safe and serviceable, gener- 
alizations upon countless important issues 
in the human destiny. 

But there is a very grave and important- 
looking difference between a load of sand 
and a multitude of human beings, and this 
I must face and examine. Our thoughts 
and wills and emotions are contagious. An 
40 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

exceptional sort of sand grain, a sand grain 
that was exceptionally big and heavy, for 
example, exerts no influence worth con- 
sidering upon any other of the sand grains 
in the load. They will fall and roll and 
heap themselves just the same whether that 
exceptional grain is with them or not; but 
an exceptional man comes into the world, a 
Caesar or a Napoleon or a Peter the Her- 
mit, and he appears to persuade and con- 
vince and compel and take entire posses- 
sion of the sand heap — I mean the com- 
munity — and to twist and alter its desti- 
nies to an almost unlimited extent. And 
if this is indeed the case, it reduces our 
project of an inductive knowledge of the 
future to very small limits. To hope to 
foretell the birth and coming of men of ex- 
ceptional force and genius is to hope in- 
credibly, and if, indeed, such exceptional 
men do as much as they seem to do in 
warping the path of humanity, our utmost 
prophetic limit in human affairs is a con- 
41 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

ditional sort of prophecy. If people do so 
and so, we can say, then such and such re- 
sults will follow, and we must admit that 
that is our limit. 

But everybody does not believe in the 
importance of the leading man. There are 
those who will say that the whole world is 
different by reason of Napoleon. There 
are those who will say that the world of 
to-day would be very much as it is now if 
Napoleon had never been born. Other men 
would have arisen to make Napoleon's con- 
quests and codify the law, redistribute the 
worn-out boundaries of Europe and achieve 
all those changes which we so readily 
ascribe to Napoleon's will alone. There 
are those who believe entirely in the indi- 
vidual man and those who believe entirely 
in the forces behind the individual man, 
and for my own part I must confess my- 
self a rather extreme case of the latter 
kind. I must confess I believe that if 
by some juggling with space and time 
42 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Edward IV., 
W^illiam the Conqueror, Lord Rosebery, 
and Robert Burns had all been changed at 
birth it would not have produced any se- 
rious dislocation of the course of destiny. 
I believe that these great men of ours are 
no more than images and symbols and in- 
struments taken, as it were, haphazard by 
the incessant and consistent forces behind 
them; they are the pen-nibs Fate has used 
for her writing, the diamonds upon the 
drill that pierces through the rock. And 
the more one inclines to this trust in forces 
the more one will believe in the possibility 
of a reasoned inductive view of the future 
that will serve us in politics, in morals, in 
social contrivances, and in a thousand spa- 
cious ways. And even those who take the 
most extreme and personal and melodra- 
matic view of the ways of human destiny, 
who see life as a tissue of fairy godmother 
births and accidental meetings and prom- 
ises and jealousies, will, I suppose, admit 
43 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

there comes a limit to these things — that 
at last personality dies away and the 
greater forces come to their own. The 
great man, however great he be, cannot set 
back the whole scheme of things; what he 
does in right and reason will remain, and 
what he does against the greater creative 
forces will perish. We cannot foresee him ; 
let us grant that. His personal difference, 
the splendor of his effect, his dramatic ar- 
rangement of events will be his own — in 
other words, we cannot estimate for acci- 
dents and accelerations and delays; but if 
only we throw our web of generalization 
wide enough, if only we spin our rope of 
induction strong enough, the final result of 
the great man, his ultimate surviving conse- 
quences, will come within our net. 

Such, then, is the sort of knowledge of 
the future that I believe is attainable and 
worth attaining. I believe that the delib- 
erate direction of historical study and of 
economic and social study toward the fu- 
44 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

ture and an increasing reference, a delib- 
erate and courageous reference, to the fu- 
ture in moral and religious discussion, 
would be enormously stimulating and 
enormously profitable to our intellectual 
life. I have done my best to suggest to you 
that such an enterprise is now a serious and 
practicable undertaking. But at the risk 
of repetition I would call your attention 
to the essential difference that must always 
hold between our attainable knowledge of 
the future and our existing knowledge of 
the past. The portion of the past that is 
brightest and most real to each of us is the 
individual past — the personal memory. 
The portion of the future that must re- 
main darkest and least accessible is the in- 
dividual future. Scientific prophecy will 
not be fortune-telling, whatever else it 
may be. Those excellent people who cast 
horoscopes, those illegal fashionable palm- 
reading ladies who abound so much to- 
day, in whom nobody is so foolish as to 
45 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

believe, and to whom everybody is foolish 
enough to go, need fear no competition 
from the scientific prophets. The knowl- 
edge of the future we may hope to gain 
will be general and not individual; it will 
be no sort of knowledge that will either 
hamper us in the exercise of our individ- 
ual free will or relieve us of our personal 
responsibility. 

And now, how far is it possible at the 
present time to speculate on the particular 
outline the future will assume when it is 
investigated in this way? 

It is interesting, before we answer that 
question, to take into account the specula- 
tions of a certain sect and culture of peo- 
ple who already, before the middle of last 
century, had set their faces toward the fu- 
ture as the justifying explanation of the 
present. These were the positivists, whose 
position is still most eloquently maintained 
and displayed by Mr. Frederic Harrison, 
46 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

in spite of the great expansion of the hu- 
man outlook that has occurred since Comte. 
If you read Mr. Harrison, and if you 
are also, as I presume your presence here 
indicates, saturated with that new wine of 
more spacious knowledge that has been 
given the world during the last fifty years, 
you will have been greatly impressed by 
the peculiar limitations of the positivist 
conception of the future. So far as I can 
gather, Comte was, for all practical pur- 
poses, totally ignorant of that remoter past 
outside the past that is known to us by his- 
tory, or if he was not totally ignorant of 
its existence, he was, and conscientiously 
remained, ignorant of its relevancy to the 
history of humanity. In the narrow and 
limited past he recognized men had always 
been like the men of to-day; in the future 
he could not imagine that they would be 
anything more than men like the men of 
to-day. He perceived, as we all perceive, 
that the old social order was breaking up, 
47 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

and after a richly suggestive and incom- 
plete analysis of the forces that were 
breaking it up he set himself to plan a new 
static social order to replace it. If you will 
read Comte, or, what is much easier and 
pleasanter, if you will read Mr. Frederic 
Harrison, you will find this conception con- 
stantly apparent — that there was once a 
stable condition of society with humanity, 
so to speak, sitting down in an orderly and 
respectable manner; that humanity has been 
stirred up and is on the move, and that 
finally it will sit down again on a higher 
plane, and for good and all, cultured and 
happy, in the reorganized positivist state. 
And since he could see nothing beyond man 
in the future, there, in that millennial fash- 
ion, Comte had to end. Since he could im- 
agine nothing higher than man, he had to 
assert that humanity, and particularly the 
future of humanity, was the highest of all 
conceivable things. 
All that was perfectly comprehensible 
48 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

in a thinker of the first half of the nine- 
teenth century. But we of the early twen- 
tieth, and particularly that growing major- 
ity of us who have been born since the 
Origin of Species was written, have no 
excuse for any such limited vision. Our 
imaginations have been trained upon a past 
in which the past that Comte knew is 
scarcely more than the concluding moment. 
We perceive that man, and all the world 
of men, is no more than the present phase 
of a development so great and splendid 
that beside this vision epics jingle like nur- 
sery rhymes, and all the exploits of human- 
ity shrivel to the proportion of castles in 
the sand. We look back through countless 
millions of years and see the will to 
live struggling out of the intertidal slime, 
struggling from shape to shape and from 
power to power, crawling and then walk- 
ing confidently upon the land, struggling 
generation after generation to master the 
air, creeping down into the darkness of the 
49 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

deep; we see it turn upon itself in rage and 
hunger and reshape itself anew; we watch 
it draw nearer and more akin to us, ex- 
panding, elaborating itself, pursuing its 
relentless, inconceivable purpose, until at 
last it reaches us and its being beats 
through our brains and arteries, throbs and 
thunders in our battleships, roars through 
our cities, sings in our music, and flowers 
in our art. And when, from that retro- 
spect, we turn again toward the future, 
surely any thought of finality, any millen- 
nial settlement of cultured persons, has 
vanished from our minds. 

This fact that man is not final is the 
great unmanageable, disturbing fact that 
arises upon us in the scientific discovery 
of the future, and to my mind, at any rate, 
the question what is to come after man is 
the most persistently fascinating and the 
most insoluble question in the whole 
world. 

Of course we have no answer. Such 
50 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

imaginations as we have refuse to rise to 
the task. 

But for the nearer future, while man is 
still man, there are a few general state- 
ments that seem to grow more certain. It 
seems to be pretty generally believed to- 
day that our dense populations are in the 
opening phase of a process of diffusion and 
aeration. It seems pretty inevitable also 
that at least the mass of white population 
in the world will be forced some way up 
the scale of education and personal effi- 
ciency in the next two or three decades. 
It is not difficult to collect reasons for 
supposing — and such reasons have been 
collected — that in the near future, in a 
couple of hundred years, as one rash op- 
timist has written, or in a thousand or so, 
humanity will be definitely and conscien- 
tiously organizing itself as a great world 
state — a great world state that will purge 
from itself much that is mean, much that 
is bestial, and much that makes for indi- 
51 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

vidual dullness and dreariness, grayness 
and wretchedness in the world of to-day; 
and although we know that there is noth- 
ing final in that world state, although we 
see it only as something to be reached and 
passed, although we are sure there will be 
no such sitting down to restore and perfect 
a culture as the positivists foretell, yet few 
people can persuade themselves to see any- 
thing beyond that except in the vaguest 
and most general terms. That world state of 
more vivid, beautiful, and eventful people 
is, so to speak, on the brow of the hill, and 
we cannot see over, though some of us can 
imagine great uplands beyond and some- 
thing, something that glitters elusively, 
taking first one form and then another, 
through the haze. We can see no detail, 
we can see nothing definable, and it is sim- 
ply, I know, the sanguine necessity of our 
minds that makes us believe those uplands 
of the future are still more gracious and 
splendid than we can either hope or im- 

52 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

agine. But of things that can be demon- 
strated we have none. 

Yet I suppose most of us entertain cer- 
tain necessary persuasions, without which 
a moral life in this world is neither a reas- 
onable nor a possible thing. All this pa- 
per is built finally upon certain negative 
beliefs that are incapable of scientific es- 
tablishment. Our lives and powers are 
limited, our scope in space and time is 
limited, and it is not unreasonable that for 
fundamental beliefs wc must go outside the 
sphere of reason and set our feet upon 
faith. Implicit in all such speculations as 
this is a very definite and quite arbitrary 
belief, and that belief is that neither hu- 
manity nor in truth any individual human 
being is living its life in vain. And it is 
entirely by an act of faith that we must 
rule out of our forecasts certain possibili- 
ties, certain things that one may consider 
improbable and against the chances, but 
53 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

that no one upon scientific grounds can call 
impossible. 

One must admit that it is impossible to 
show why certain things should not utterly 
destroy and end the entire human race and 
story, why night should not presently come 
down and make all our dreams and efforts 
vain. It is conceivable, for example, that 
some great unexpected mass of matter 
should presently rush upon us out of space, 
whirl sun and planets aside like dead 
leaves before the breeze, and collide with 
and utterly destroy every spark of life up- 
on this earth. So far as positive human 
knowledge goes, this is a conceivably pos- 
sible thing. There is nothing in science to 
show why such a thing should not be. It 
is conceivable, too, that some pestilence 
may presently appear, some new disease, 
that will destroy, not lo or 15 or 20 per 
cent, of the earth's inhabitants as pesti- 
lences have done in the past, but 100 per 
cent; and so end our race. No one, speak- 
54 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

ing from scientific grounds alone, can say, 
"That cannot be." And no one can dis- 
pute that some great disease of the atmos- 
phere, some trailing cometary poison, some 
great emanation of vapor from the interior 
of the earth, such as Mr. Shiel has made a 
brilliant use of in his "Purple Cloud," is 
consistent with every demonstrated fact in 
the world. There may arise new animals 
to prey upon us by land and sea, and there 
may come some drug or a wrecking mad- 
ness into the minds of men. And finally, 
there is the reasonable certainty that this 
sun of ours must radiate itself toward 
extinction; that, at least, must happen; it 
will grow cooler and cooler, and its planets 
will rotate ever more sluggishly until some 
day this earth of ours, tideless and slow 
moving, will be dead and frozen, and all 
that has lived upon it will be frozen out 
and done with. There surely man must 
end. That of all such nightmares is the 
most insistently convincing. 

55 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTTTRB 

And yet one doesn't believe it. 

At least I do not. And I do not believe 
in these things because I have come to be- 
lieve in certain other things — in the co- 
herency and purpose in the world and in 
the greatness of human destiny. Worlds 
may freeze and suns may perish, but there 
stirs something within us now that can 
never die again. 

Do not misunderstand me when I speak 
of the greatness of human destiny. 

If I may speak quite openly to you, I 
will confess that, considered as a final pro- 
duct, I do not think very much of myself 
or (saving your presence) my fellow-crea- 
tures. I do not think I could possibly join 
in the worship of humanity with any 
gravity or sincerity. Think of it! Think of 
the positive facts. There are surely moods 
for all of us when one can feel Swift's 
amazement that such a being should deal in 
pride. There are moods when one can join 
in the laughter of Democritus; and they 
56 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

would come oftener were not the spectacle 
of human littleness so abundantly shot with 
pain. But it is not only with pain that the 
world is shot — it is shot with promise. 
Small as our vanity and carnality make us, 
there has been a day of still smaller things. 
It is the long ascent of the past that gives 
the lie to our despair. We know now that 
all the blood and passion of our life were 
represented in the Carboniferous time by 
something — something, perhaps, cold- 
blooded and with a clammy skin, that 
lurked between air and water, and fled be- 
fore the giant amphibia of those days. 

For all the folly, blindness, and pain of 
our lives, we have come some way from 
that. And the distance we have travelled 
gives us some earnest of the way we have 
yet to go. 

Why should things cease at man? Why 

should not this rising curve rise yet more 

steeply and swiftly? There are many 

things to suggest that we are now in a phase 

57 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

of rapid and unprecedented development. 
The conditions under which men live are 
changing with an ever-increasing rapidity, 
and, so far as our knowledge goes, no sort 
of creatures have ever lived under chang- 
ing conditions without undergoing the pro- 
foundest changes themselves. In the past 
century there was more change in the condi- 
tions of human life than there had been in 
the previous thousand years. A hundred 
years ago inventors and investigators were 
rare scattered men, and now invention and 
inquiry are the work of an unorganized 
army. This century will see changes that 
will dwarf those of the nineteenth century, 
as those of the nineteenth dwarf those of 
the eighteenth. One can see no sign any- 
where that this rush of change will be over 
presently, that the positivist dream of a so- 
cial reconstruction and of a new static cul- 
ture phase will ever be realized. Human 
society never has been quite static, and it 
will presently cease to attempt to be static. 

58 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

Everything seems pointing to the belief 
that we are entering upon a progress that 
will go on, with an ever-widening and ever 
more confident stride, forever. The re- 
organization of society that is going on 
now beneath the traditional appearance of 
things is a kinetic reorganization. We are 
getting into marching order. We have 
struck our camp forever and we are out 
upon the roads. 

We are in the beginning of the greatest 
change that humanity has ever undergone. 
There is no shock, no epoch-making inci- 
dent — but then there is no shock at a 
cloudy daybreak. At no point can we say, 
"Here it commences, now; last minute was 
night and this is morning." But insensibly 
we are in the day. If we care to look, we 
can foresee growing knowledge, growing 
order, and presently a deliberate improve- 
ment of the blood and character of the 
race. And what we can see and imagine 
59 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

gives us a measure and gives us faith for 
what surpasses the imagination. 

It is possible to believe that all the past 
is but the beginning of a beginning, and 
that all that is and has been is but the twi- 
light of the dawn. It is possible to believe 
that all that the human mind has ever ac- 
complished is but the dream before the 
awakening. We cannot see, there is no 
need for us to see, what this world will be 
like when the day has fully come. We are 
creatures of the twilight. But it is out of 
our race and lineage that minds will 
spring, that will reach back to us in our 
littleness to know us better than we know 
ourselves, and that will reach forward 
fearlessly to comprehend this future that 
defeats our eyes. 

All this world is heavy with the promise 
of greater things, and a day will come, one 
day in the unending succession of days, 
when beings, beings who are now latent in 
our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall 

60 



THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE 

stand upon this earth as one stands upon a 
footstool, and shall laugh and reach out 
their hands amid the stars. 



6l 



THE ART of LIFE SERIES 

EDWARD HOWARD GRIGGS. Editor 

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